Fun Fictional Distractions
Something was off. Kailian could feel it, and that agitation made her feel like snapping.
"It's all right," she growled to herself. "Everything is fine... Nothing is fucked..."
She was climbing the stairs to an apartment. Without thinking about it, her green slitted eyes looked over her door, checking for signs of tampering or foul play. That done, she moved in close enough to knock. It opened for her. Nakase's snout peered from behind the door.
"Hey Kai," Nakase said.
Kai nodded, and Nakase looked away. She disappeared behind the door, and it opened up. Kailian walked into it.
After a quick sweep of the room, she took a breath and sat down on a couch that was too small for any Valkyrie. She looked up to see Nakase, dressed in black. She sat down with her back to Kailian and started typing something on a holographic keyboard projected onto her desk. Her claws on the composite board made an irregular, rapid tapping.
"I need to use your 3D printer," Kailian said in a softer tone.
"Okay," Nakase said without moving. "I'll log you in after I get this sent."
Kailian looked around uncomfortably.
I really don't have time for this, Kailian mused.
The online chatter had picked up in the last few days, but now tones of postings by off-grid media had gotten more suspicious, more guarded. Kai had been in a lot of chaotic situations, and right now, the senses she had developed were telling her that she wasn't the only player in this game anymore. But why?
"It's ready," Nakase said cooly.
Kailian turned her gaze toward the box-like device set in a cabinet. She got up with a grunt, a wince and a clank from her back, and walked over to the thing, already pulling out a memory crystal and looking for the port.
"You look tired," Nakase said, leaning against a wall with her arms crossed.
"I'm always tired," Kai said in a soft growl.
Naka nodded. "Still doing consulting?"
"Yeah," Kailian nodded as she tapped a touchscreen. "I'm also trying to track down a guy on the side."
"Like, for a job?" Nakase asked, her tail twitching a little.
"No," Kailian said, sounding a little tense. "There's another Valkyrie out there."
Nakase's ears flared forward.
"How is that possible?" Nakase asked.
"I don't know," Kailian snarled. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen him with my own eyes."
Nakase sighed. Kailian glanced at her. She was giving Kai a muted gaze, head down. Kailian looked back to the touchscreen, trying to hide an extra snarl. Why did she have to do that?
Kailian tapped a green button on the interface, and the printer quietly hummed to life. Kailian focused her gaze on the arms inside moving in patterns.
"What are you printing?" Nakase asked. "It looks really flat."
"An important clue," Kailian said.
For a moment they were both silent. The printer was the only sound aside from the central unit that kept the apartment warm.
"It looks like paper," Nakase said.
"It is," Kailian said, sounding a little tense. "I couldn't even find old fashioned paper anywhere. Forget finding a printer that uses it. Easier to use this thing to just print paper and text all in one go."
Nakase nodded. Kai could feel her steady gaze. Kai flickered her ears and let out a big breath.
"Do you have to keep staring at me like that?" Kailian said suddenly, turning to glare at Nakase.
Nakase startled and looked away.
"Sorry," Nakase said, her ears drooping.
Kailian looked away, clenching her teeth behind her lips.
"I'm..." Nakase started, then paused. "I wasn't trying to make a problem..."
She sounded so hurt. Kailian sighed. She really didn't want to be here right now.
The printer beeped. Kailian opened the bay and snatched the finished piece gladly. Nevermind the recommended cool-down time after printing. That was for weaklings. She looked it over. It had been so long since she had held paper in her hand like this.
"The heck does that say?" Nakase said. "It doesn't make sense."
Kailian held the paper closer to her chest.
"Neither can I," Kailian growled, "But I'm going to."
Nakase shrank back, slumping a little.
That's right, you, Kailian thought.
"Did Roboy help?" Nakase asked finally.
"He might have," Kai said. "It was a scan, and we had to convert to something printable."
Kailian sighed. This just never got any easier. Nakase looked so contrite.
"I needed a physical copy, because I've been looking at it for days, and nothing makes sense."
She held the paper out for Nakase to see.
Nakase reached up to take it. Kai held onto it and kept her steely gaze on Naka until she took the hint and stopped grasping it.
"Why are there so many random spaces in the text?" Nakase asked, looking up and flickering one ear forward.
"I don't know," Kailian said. "It's probably a clue, though."
Nakase smiled shyly. Kailian's focus on the page was intensifying.
"Roboy ran some encryption detection programs on the spacing," Kailian said in a low voice. "And on the text around the extra spaces."
She shook her head slowly.
"Nothing. Same for all this gibberish."
She pointed, gesturing across the page.
"It's all nonsense."
They both looked at the page silently for a moment. That's when Nakase surprised Kailian with a giggle.
"Okay, this is random. I want to color the spaces in and see if they make a picture."
Kailian gasped and her eyes widened.
"You do that..."
Kailian was already scanning the page with her eyes. Could it really be that simple?
"No way..." She muttered to herself. "Ah! Those butts...."
"What?" Nakase said.
"Well, are you gonna color them in?" Kai said with a hint of a snarly smile.
Nakase looked up into Kai's eyes and blinked a few times, smiled nervously and said,
She turned and walked away.
Kailian looked down at the paper in her hand. Even without the spaces highlighted, she thought she could see a shape, and it looked vaguely familiar. But from where?
She growled to herself.
Both frustration and excitement were building. She was close to solving this. She could feel it. Days of effort were about to pay off.
That's when it dawned on her.
She gasped. She trotted to the door.
"Kailian?" Nakase called out. "Where are you going?"
There was no answer.
Kailian still had the motorcycle. It was down in the parking garage nearby. Kailian reached the vehicle, and opened the saddle bag on the side.
"There you are," she said, pulling out the metal dancing man cut-out from the campsite. She picked up the whole saddle bag and slung it over her shoulder. That's when a shadow caught her attention near the corner. Kailian stood taller and turned to look down the corridor. All her senses had pricked. She put her hand to her gun.
"Come out and show yourself, coward!" She bellowed.
She watched, tense, ready, for any movement. That's when her ears swung back. She gasped and dove as an energy blast came at her from behind. The motorcycle jumped and erupted into flames from the impact of a shot. Kailian leapt from behind two cars, her gun blazing in the direction the blast came from. She laid down a line of fire as she ran sideways towards the door. Two shadowy figures dove behind cover down range.
Kailian's palm hit the exit door so hard it came off of the hinges. She kept running.